In his rookie NTT IndyCar Series season, 2014 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam drew the ire of Ed Carpenter for oval-track behavior the team owner/driver felt was too reckless and aggressive. Karam’s talent was unquestioned; it was the lack of care demonstrated for his fellow drivers, in a form of racing where carelessness can have dire consequences, that left Carpenter feeling a message needed to be sent.
Years later, the message is being returned, fired inward on consecutive oval events from a pair of Andretti Autosport teammates at Ed Carpenter Racing’s rapid teenage rookie Rinus VeeKay (pictured above).
At the Indy 500, while running a lap down, VeeKay was accused of blocking and chopping 2014 Indy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. After the race, the Andretti driver made a beeline for VeeKay and delivered a heated speech about acceptable oval-track conduct to the Dutchman. On Sunday, VeeKay was confronted again, this time after the World Wide Technology Raceway event, by Andretti’s Colton Herta, whose car was hit while the promising rookie made a pass that delivered a season’s best fourth-place finish.
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Replays showed Herta, noting VeeKay was drifting downward between Turns 3 and 4 while using the high line, turning left to avoid contact. With his tires arriving at the inside edge of the corner, further avoidance by Herta was prevented as VeeKay continued to turn down. With contact made between VeeKay’s left-rear tire and the right-front of Herta’s car, the Andretti driver fought throughout the rest of the corner — and onto the front straight — as his car slid up into the marbles while preventing a crash.
“Today, I started 18th,” VeeKay said. “Qualifying wasn’t amazing. But the race pace was great, and I had a really good first lap. Got around the outside of a lot of guys. Then it was just a really team effort. After the first stop, it was amazing strategy. Shout-out to the team for giving me such a good call. And then we were in the top three, five all the time. At the end, yeah, I got a little close with Colton.
“It’s tough. It’s really hard to pass here, and it was really my only chance to pass Colton. I moved to the outside, and there’s marbles — a lot of marbles. They are dangerous here, so I tried to try to stay out of them and, of course, you’re fighting for position, so you’re not getting a lot of room. I think this was just enough.”
For Herta, who expressed extreme displeasure over his radio at the lack of a penalty for VeeKay, the absence of action by race control was received as an endorsement for using identical tactics at future races.
“For Rinus, really, it’s just too aggressive,” he said. “I know he’s a rookie. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s made this mistake numerous times before. I don’t really have too much fun driving against him. But that’s the way it is sometimes. I gave him all the opportunity to go to the inside. He took the outside to be up in the gray, for some reason. I don’t know. And then he just chops the hell out of me there.
“I just told him it’s too much to be doing that. He could have put me in the wall. And to see that the officials don’t take a stand or there’s no penalty, I mean, I guess I can understand a little bit. But I think I can be in the same position now. I can shove anybody I want in the gray and toss anybody in the wall and there’s not going to be any penalties.”